West Virginia’s biggest industry is mining, especially for coal. About 14,000 citizens of West Virginia are employed in either surface or underground minds on any given day. Long known as a dangerous occupation, improvements in safety have gone a long way in improving the work lives of those who work in the mines.
Coal mining includes significant long-term health issues that are exclusive to miners. Because the effects aren’t immediately apparent, many miners don’t seek medical care until the condition renders them unable to work or they have other more prominent symptoms.
Much is said about deaths that occur in mining, but not as much attention is paid to those who retire from mining after 20 or 30 years, or to those who work for a shorter period and leave to work elsewhere. The rates of illness and non-fatal injuries are 66% higher in coal mining than in other occupations.
Whatever your tenure is working a mine, the possibility exists to develop health conditions that remain long after you’ve left the industry for other jobs or retirement. These are some of the ailments that afflict miners and former miners as a result of their occupation.
The repeated inhalation of crystalline silica (as well as asbestos) causes this lung ailment. Silica is an essential component of soil, sand, granite, and most other types of rock, and is used as an abrasive blasting agent. An identified carcinogen, smoking can exacerbate the effects of silicosis.
- Loss of appetite
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Dry and nonproductive dry cough
- Respiratory failure which could become fatal
Silicosis can also lead to lung cancer, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Tuberculosis, Scleroderma, and potential renal disease.
Pneumoconiosis, aka “Black Lung Disease”
Similar to silicosis, pneumoconiosis is the result of long-term exposure to coal dust. Common in miners as well as others who work with coal and have coal dust exposure, pneumoconiosis is best prevented by ventilated masks during exposures. This prevents the dust from settling in the lungs, causing inflammation and fibrosis as the body attempts to combat it. The increased scarring makes breathing more difficult, and treatments are primarily to encourage breathing. The condition takes many years to develop and manifest, and most patients are diagnosed after the age of 50. Cigarette smoking also exacerbates the symptoms, which include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing, with or without black discharge from the lungs
Inhalers and other medications may be prescribed along with oxygen if your levels are low. In severe cases, lung transplants may be the best option.
Recent injury figures from the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training indicate that while there have been no deaths in 2020, there have been a total of 65 injuries to date, both with and without lost work time. In 2019, miner injuries totaled 729, with four fatalities included.
Injuries can leave permanent damage, much like black lung and COPD. These injuries can come in the form of:
- Crush injuries
- Bone fractures
- Burn injuries
- Sprains and dislocations
Longer hours can also lead to injuries due to irregular hours, or less on-the-job experience than more tenured employees.
Loud heavy equipment, constant drilling, vibrations, and other dangers to hearing are continuous in a mine. Without ear protection, you may be able to tune out the noise mentally, but hearing quickly diminishes in this environment. Many people don’t realize the damage that has occurred until they know they have specific hearing loss.
But this kind of noise exposure can also cause sleep disturbances, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), issues with concentration, and eventually a distinct, permanent loss of hearing.
In addition to hearing protection and other safety equipment, regular equipment maintenance and evaluation of working conditions, risk assessments, and other measures to reduce noise and vibration to protect those working in mines.
These are just a few of the possible illnesses that miners may experience as a result of their careers, but not all miners will develop them. Although people still do become ill and have accidents, better safety equipment, and mining best practices have made the mining workplace better than before.
Representing Miners In West Virginia
Attorney Chad Love has more than 20 years’ experience representing miners and victims of mining accidents, including worker’s compensation and wrongful death. The Love Law Firm in Charleston, West Virginia’s personal injury law firm with extensive experience handling mining injury and accident cases. Call us today at 304-344-5683 (or use our online contact form) and schedule your free consultation. There’s no charge for the first visit, and our contingency fee arrangement means you won’t pay unless we win your case and recover money for you.